Playoff race heats up as Revs prepare to host conference-leading Montreal Impact

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Major League Soccer’s best defense goes head-to-head with the Eastern Conference’s top offense on Sunday night when the New England Revolution hosts the Montreal Impact at Gillette Stadium.

The Revs (10-9-7, 37 pts.) and Impact (12-7-6, 42 pts.) will get underway at 7:30 p.m., with both Comcast SportsNet and 98.5 The Sports Hub carrying the action regionally.

Sunday night’s game will be played on a natural grass surface, laid down ahead of Tuesday night’s international showdown between Brazil and Portugal.

Current Form: Revs cling to East’s final playoff spot, five points back of first-place Impact

Last week’s 1-1 draw with Toronto FC extended the Revolution’s unbeaten run to three games (2-0-1) and kept New England in the Eastern Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot, ahead of the Houston Dynamo on the goals scored tiebreaker.

After comprehensive home wins over the Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union, the Revs looked to be on their way to a third straight victory at BMO Field when Diego Fagundez opened the scoring in just the second minute, but TFC fought back with a goal just before halftime and the sides ended up splitting the points from a scrappy encounter.

WATCH: Revs and TFC battle to 1-1 draw in rainy encounter at BMO Field

“I think we deserved a point in the game; we didn’t deserve all three in terms of how we played,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “I feel like if we’d gotten into halftime and made a couple adjustments, we could’ve done a little bit better with that goal advantage. But unfortunately Toronto did a nice job. They didn’t give us much room after that first goal.”

Montreal is on a strikingly similar three-game unbeaten run (2-0-1), following up home wins over D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo with a scoreless draw at the Union’s PPL Park last weekend. The Impact enters this weekend one of three teams tied atop the Eastern Conference standings – along with the New York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City – but holds the advantage of two games in hand.

Past Meetings: Montreal took two-of-three in first-ever season series last year

Entering the weekend, Montreal is the only team New England has yet to face in 2013 as the Revs will see the Impact twice in the final eight games of the regular season.

During the Impact’s first MLS season in 2012 it was the expansion side which got the better of the Revolution, winning the first two meetings, including a 1-0 victory in the only previous meeting at Gillette Stadium last August.

The Revs did get their first-ever win over the Impact in the most recent encounter, however, as a late header from A.J. Soares lifted the Revs to a 1-0 win in the 2012 season finale at Stade Saputo.

WATCH: Shuttleworth’s eight saves and Soares’ header lift Revs over Impact

Injury Report: Both sides likely missing key pieces on Sunday night

For the first time in his tenure as the Revolution’s head coach, Heaps has named the same starting lineup for three straight games. That will likely have to change on Sunday night.

Juan Agudelo, who has notched three goals in three appearances since returning from a right knee sprain, is now struggling with a right hamstring strain suffered in last Friday’s match and is listed as out on the most recent injury report. He’s joined on the report by Kevin Alston, also listed as out with a hamstring injury.

Also unavailable for the Revs will be Jerry Bengtson (Honduras) and new signing O’Brian Woodbine (Jamaica), both of whom are off representing their countries in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.

Montreal will be shorthanded, as well, following injuries to their two most recent signings. The Impact officially announced on Thursday that Argentine midfielder – and Designated Player – Hernan Bernardello will miss the next four-to-six weeks with a sprained ankle, while Spanish defender Adrian Lopez seems set for an extended absence after colliding with a teammate in training earlier this week.

Final Thoughts: Unbeaten in three, Revs aiming to continue recent form

“I think it’s a team with a lot of experience at the back and up front,” Revolution captain Jose Goncalves said of Sunday night’s opponent. “They have players who can score at any time. We just need to be focused and play our game like we did in the last few weeks.

“We don’t need to be nervous. We have proven all season that we can play some good football, so we have to do that, create some chances and take the chances.”